“What did you pick up?” The girl asked, with a quick smile for her friend.
The man, who looked to be somewhere in his late forties, was wearing jeans and a long sleeved rugby shirt. He rustled through his Chapters bag and pulled out a couple of books.
“Let me show you.” He said. He handed the books over, one to each of the young women sitting at the next table. The girls were wearing low cut jeans and fitted tops. I guessed that he was one of their Professors from school, obviously well liked.
“The books outline the nature of biblical translation. They detail why the Bible is inaccurate, and why it’s so impossible for any religion to declare itself to be inspired by God.” The man shook his head. "Irrational drivel."
I raised my eyebrows but turned back to my laptop. It was impossible not to listen. The professor was only about ten feet away and spoke in a stentorian voice accustomed to lecture halls.
The girls asked him a few questions, but the professor did most of the talking, waiting for the girls to nod in agreement with him, before continuing his rational diatribe against the Bible and religiously inspired texts.
It was a startling conversation to witness, on so many levels. Unfortunately, it brought with it a lot of sad memories. The professor said his good byes. The girls went back to their homework, and from what I could gather, a conversation about the previous weekend. I stopped listening and dragged myself out of my chair.
I moved to the magazine racks, slipping in between a few patrons to pick up a writing magazine, and idly listening to the light jazz filtering through the speakers. No use. I put the magazine back and strolled through the store.
When I first became a Christian, I’d been so anxious to share the gospel. In those days, handing out pamphlets and talking to strangers was not only encouraged, it was expected. After a few years, however, I was thoroughly discouraged. I felt guilty all the time because I didn’t want to share my faith anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t love people or want them to hear the gospel, but I was tired of fighting this uphill battle, always giving reasons why I believed in God’s existence, why Jesus was the Son of God, why the Christian faith was the only way, why church was important, and why my life was better than their own. I guess I was just tired of carrying this weight on my shoulders. I was tired of hearing people in the church tell me that I was “the only Jesus they will ever see.” The pressure was enormous. Soon my joy left, and within two years, I followed my joy and walked away.
The memories flashed through my mind as I strolled through the shelves of books. I moved to the large window at the rear of the store. The sun was bright today, and it reflected off the snow covered parking lot like a thousand little crystals. The vehicles coughed into the cold winter sunlight, and people scurried between their car and the building, anxious to be out of the wind. Two men in toques were having a cigarette out back, but the cold doesn’t seem to bother them. They laughed between puffs, although from the window it was difficult to tell the difference between the smoke from the cigarettes and their breath frosting in the icy winter air.
I tried to let go of it but I couldn't. I couldn't stop thinking about that conversation between the professor and his two impressionable young students. About how desperately people wanted to get along, how the professor’s search for approval from the younger generation was mirrored by the girls’ expectations of respect from their more experienced, and more learned, professor.
I was thinking about that because I knew how much I wanted to get along with the people around me. How I hated being in conflict. And as a young Christian, I always felt so much pressure to pound away at people, people I didn’t even know. Instead of enjoying this journey God had put me on, I was more concerned about saying the right words, about having the right words, about somehow working the word ‘Jesus’ into every conversation like it was magic syrup.
I moved back to my chair and threw on my coat. Time for a walk. I headed over to the entrance and pushed the door open, momentarily surprised at the burst of cold air. I readjusted my toque and jammed my hands into my pockets. It no longer surprises me when I hear that Christians have stopped sharing their faith. Or that too many Christians seem more concerned with people inside the church than outside the church, why churches engage in so much bickering. It makes sense. I never used to understand why, but I do now.
What most Christians don't understand is that when they bicker and pick on other Christians, they're at least arguing from the same perspective. The culture around us does not share our world view at all, so arguing with them often feels like your having a conversation with a block of cheese. God? Who is God? Can you prove He exists? It's the reason why at one time I might have approached this professor, and why I no longer did so. What would that professor had said if I had told him that I thought he was wrong, had engaged him in a rationalistic debate about the reasons proving God’s existence? I can tell you what would have happened.
He would have answered me, argument for argument, debate for debate, and in the end neither one of us would have been convinced of anything, except perhaps that the other person was completely wrong. And for me, like most Christians, it would have been another stake in my willingness to even try and share the gospel. Another loss. Another person outside the church “not willing to hear the Truth.” And it only would have strengthened my resolve not to share with “those people” any more, since they obviously didn’t want to listen.
The wind was cold, and the sun was so bright it made me squint. I’d forgotten my sunglasses, but I wasn't ready to go back in yet. Slowly I headed back towards the entrance. Since the 18th Century, Western society has defined itself in scientific terms. We explain everything. Where people originated. How the body works. The reasons we get sick. The sociological importance of certain cultural structures. We make numbers out of everything. God is not part of the hypothesis of Western thought, not anymore.
We don’t think about it much, but it is, as my professor says, the soup we swim in. Maybe we forget that our hypothesis -- as Christians -- actually includes God. That God is not an appendage to our beliefs, but the very core of who we are. Oh, we say that He is, but if that is true, than why do we feel so much pressure to share our faith or not share our faith. Why do we get so angry when people do not listen to our reasons… our proof?
A woman pushing a stroller walks past. Her baby is dressed in a red snow suit. She smiles when I hold the door open for her, gurgling at her young one the way mothers do. It’s all kind of a miracle, isn’t it? A mother and her child. People laughing and sharing their lives. Science helps me when I get sick, but this world, this great, crazy, sad, wonderful, broken world we live in, what part of that is rational? How much of it is natural?
Maybe our problem is that for too long we have tried to answer the world on their terms. Maybe our tendency to either hide our faith or angrily confront those who disagree, with no middle ground, happens because we’ve forgotten that this God we serve is not natural. I can’t explain Him any more than I can explain the way I love my mom and dad, or the way I love my friends, or the reason a movie about loyalty and dreams can move me to tears.
God is supernatural, far above our 'scientific' proofs and reasons. And we aren’t the Savior, but His children. And as His kids, maybe He doesn’t want us worrying about our words so much as He wants us to experience the joy He brings to our lives. Maybe it is His joy, and not the words, that he wants us to share with others. A joy unconstrained by the rigidity of finding a numerical solution for everything we believe.
The sun has begun to set. The horizon glows like a ridge of fire lilting into a smoky mass of orange and pink, splashed against the fading twilight. My cheeks burn from the cold, but I find my gaze locked onto the sudden swirl of natural beauty. Science may explain how the sun sets, why it sets, where it goes, and the exact number of rotations the earth makes in a year. But as I stand there, absorbed into the moment as if my soul had suddenly fit itself into a special place, somehow I know that God exists, and that He loves me.
Is it a rational thought? Do I have scientific proof of these things? No. But then, my God doesn’t need to be explained. Not like that. I know that my faith isn’t rational. Not completely anyway, and that’s the way it should be.